With Lexus in the process of revamping its entire lineup of vehicles, you could bet dollars to donuts the company's new 'spindle grille' look would find its way to the flagship Lexus, the LS sedan.
Recently, that grille and a host of other improvements finally did show up in the form of the 2013 LS 460. Unlike the recent GS and ES models, which received wholesale changes from their previous versions, this latest LS is really just an update. Fortunately it's in all the right places.
Clearly the car's face is the biggest difference. It leaves behind the tepid, generic trapezoidal grille and headlamps and finds more aggression in a bolder face. Lexus blackened out the bumper section between the upper and lower grille sections, giving the car an open-mouth look. As with other Lexus products getting this spindle look, the LS also gains a bit of a chin.
The headlamps see an update and the inclusion of LED daytime-running lamps, as seen on other recent Lexus vehicles. The lens shape is now more three-dimensional and extends a bit farther up the front quarter panels. While the look is certainly cleaner and more windswept, it's hard not to see inadvertent traces of the new Nissan Altima in what this 2013 LS has going on up front. Probably best to keep this to yourself if the neighbor or boss invites you over to check out his new ride.
The rear of the car also gets a kick of additional machismo, though less so than the front. The taillamps are now sleeker, with a more contemporary look, while the pair of rectangular chrome exhaust tips appear more integrated into the bumper.
Inside, the updates continue, with the LS's interior getting a thorough makeover. Most notably, the car now has a 12.3-inch LCD screen in the center of the dashboard. It displays the navigation system, climate, phone and stereo, with redundant buttons for the climate arranged below it. The screen's display can be split between functions, using two-thirds of it for navigation and the other third for climate or stereo. This allows a nice degree of multitasking. Unfortunately, the screen uses the same outdated graphics as other Lexus products.
Controlling this screen is the company's 'Remote Touch Interface,' a joystick-like device mounted on the center console. As I've mentioned in previous reviews of other Lexus' (Lexi?) with this device, it's wise in theory, but frustrating in the real world. More traditional controllers like those in rivals including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series and Audi's A8 work better. Unfortunately, the outdated graphics of the Lexus system remain.
The cabin itself is certainly a nice place to spend some time, but its construction and materials still feel a half-step below a comparable Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi. Good thing then, that the price of the LS is also a half-step below those guys. The LS 460 AWD starts at around $75,000 while a similar car from the aforementioned trio would start at $99,000, $90,000 and $82,000 respectively.
Mechanically, the LS is much the same as the 2012 version; a 4.6-liter V-8 makes 386 horsepower (six more than before) and 367 pound-feet of torque and routes it to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. These power figures drop to 360 and 347, respectively, on all-wheel-drive models.
One key change for the 2013 iteration is Lexus' desire to kick up the performance a notch. The company has introduced a thrill-seeking variant called the LS F Sport. Similar in theory to the smaller GS F Sport, this version adds to the LS items like an adjustable air suspension that's 10 millimeters lower, a Torsen limited-slip differential, Brembo front-brake calipers, a mesh grille, 19-inch BBS alloy wheels, unique seats with thicker side bolstering, blind-spot monitoring, a 19-speaker sound system, paddle shifters and an Alcantara headliner. This package is available on the standard rear-wheel-drive models as well as the all-wheel-drive models, and runs you an extra $13,500.
We grabbed an LS F-Sport AWD to test ($89,310 total) and found the package works well to make the car feel smaller on the road than it actually is. This is an impressive feat on a vehicle that weighs some 4,700 pounds and has only 360 horsepower to work with. While the car is never neck-snapping fast in any setting, once it's up to speed it can handle itself with poise.
Drivers can toggle the car's settings from Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+, with each setting progressively dialing up the car's throttle response, steering, transmission shift points and suspension firmness.
The throttle response on the LS F-Sport could have been more aggressive, especially in Sport+, and this setting also keeps the engine revving higher than you might expect. The paddle shifters are a nice touch, but when you go to use them, they initiate shifts that should be quicker if this is supposed to be a performance-oriented model.
The steering in Sport+ has a nice bit of feel to it (a trait one can't take for granted on all Lexus LS models) and this helps the car feel nimble. Meanwhile, the air suspension imbued the driver with an appreciable degree of confidence, holding the car to the road well, regardless of which setting the suspension was in. Should you get a little too cocky, the Brembo front brakes felt firm and linear throughout the drive.
Overall, buyers looking to gain more control and poise for aggressive driving will be pleased with what the F Sport package has to offer. When paired with the timely and well-chosen design updates inside and out, the 2013 LS F Sport is a well-executed mid-life adjustment.
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